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Police board member steps down, citing lack of access to information and oversight

“I don’t find that it’s possible to ethically give oversight to the police under current circumstances,” Paul Schachter said.

By Jimmy Thomson
November 16, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Police board member steps down, citing lack of access to information and oversight

“I don’t find that it’s possible to ethically give oversight to the police under current circumstances,” Paul Schachter said.

By Jimmy Thomson
Nov 16, 2022
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Police board member steps down, citing lack of access to information and oversight

“I don’t find that it’s possible to ethically give oversight to the police under current circumstances,” Paul Schachter said.

By Jimmy Thomson
November 16, 2022
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Police board member steps down, citing lack of access to information and oversight
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

A member of the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board has stepped down, saying the board is unable to do its job. 

Retired lawyer Paul Schachter has been part of the nine-member board for two years, and will serve until Nov. 30. He was appointed by the province. 

“I made it very clear that I had a civil liberties and social justice orientation, and that I would do my best to increase trust between vulnerable communities and the police force,” he told Capital Daily. 

But he doesn’t believe he’s been able to do that job. 

“I don’t find that it’s possible to ethically give oversight to the police under current circumstances.” 

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In his remarks to the board on Tuesday evening, he said his reasons for stepping down are twofold: he criticized the lack of access the board has to information and analysis from the police, particularly concerning the budget, and said the board does not have enough authority to address policy issues within the department.

Schachter raised the issue of VicPD’s budget, which has risen from $42.9 million in 2012 to $63.4 million in 2022.

“[VicPD] now represents about 25% of the total budget in the City of Victoria,” Schachter said in his statement. “It’s not clear whether this increase has had an effect on crime reduction or public safety.”

Paul Schachter steps down. Screenshot via YouTube.

The province, he said, bears some of the blame for “downloading more responsibilities and costs to the department,” but Schachter’s concern is also about transparency: that the Police Act doesn’t give the board the authority or capacity to look more deeply at where the money is spent. The department recently offered a signing bonus of $20,000 for new members, and hired 12 officers under that bonus; it's now looking to hire more officers, and will extend the signing bonus for another $240,000. Both administration and operations are currently over budget, according to a financial report in Tuesday's board meeting.

He clarified that he's not saying the police force is run inefficiently—and reserved judgment on whether the force is over- or under-funded. Rather, he said, the problem is with the structure of the police board and its legislated role.

The police board's role is determined by the Police Act, and is one of the central means of civilian control of police departments.

The board is the employer of all police officers and civilian staff. Those staff, Schachter said, are not the ones responsible for the state of things. 

“The actual commitment of the officers, civilian and sworn, to the community is very high,” he said. 

He also credited senior police management for being willing to listen to his concerns—but, “Whether that had any impact is an open question.” 

‘An impossible position’

Schachter’s other stated reason for stepping down is the board’s inability to oversee “policies that create mistrust in vulnerable communities.” He provided the example of street checks, and of officers’ duty to intervene when they witness other officers break the law.

“Police officers are often put in an impossible position,” he told the board. “They are tasked by law to apprehend people in mental health crises. This often seems to demand escalation of force and authority. However, escalation rather than de-escalation increases the chances of adverse results that negatively affect both the subject and the police officers.”

Citing the arrival of civilian-led mental health response teams like PACT in Victoria—an initiative that is supported by VicPD Chief Del Manak but is still months away—Schachter said the problem isn’t going away under the status quo. 

“We’re going to keep experiencing these mental health escalations unless we take some real action,” he told Capital Daily.

Schachter has been vocal about the police role in mental health calls, telling Capital Daily in May that police are “the wrong tool for the job.” 

VicPD did not respond to requests for comment on that story, but making a statement of his own landed Schachter in hot water with the board. Within hours of the article’s publication, fellow board member Sean Dhillon sent an email to Victoria and Esquimalt mayors Lisa Helps and Barb Desjardins as well as Chief Del Manak, expressing concerns that “there’s a board vs the department story that’s now in print/online.” 

Capital Daily requested that email from VicPD as part of a Freedom of Information request. The email came back entirely redacted, with the department citing privacy as the reason for blacking it out. 

When we requested the same email from the City of Victoria, only small portions were redacted.

Capital Daily submitted a Freedom of Information request to both VicPD and the City of Victoria for an email sent by police board member Sean Dhillon. VicPD responded with a completely redacted email. The City of Victoria responded with only minor redactions.

No formal action was ever taken against Schachter, who maintains that he always had the right to express himself as an individual while not speaking on behalf of the board as a whole. But regardless, a lack of transparency is something Schachter says he will no longer have to contend with now that he’s leaving the board. 

“If the police board doesn’t have authority to make important policy changes and do oversight, much better to be able to speak from the outside than the inside.”

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto, for whom Tuesday's was her first meeting, adjourned the public part of the meeting immediately after Schachter's announcement.

Article Author's Profile Picture
Jimmy Thomson
Managing Editor
[email protected]

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